Interesting Book: The Secular City by Harvey Cox

Harvey Cox is a professor at Harvard's Divinity School and I'm halfway through this book (which I somehow ended up acquiring from my sister Melissa.)  I've enjoyed Cox's academic content and broad knowledge of the world, history, literature and ideas.

The first part laid out a theological perspective on why secularization is a such positive thing for the modern world (e.g. the separation of church and state is essential for living well as a community of people, and Christianity actually rightly promoted this early-on).  He also described the development of the city and how God has been at work in the world promoting political and individual freedom over the centuries (a la Exodus).  I was intrigued by Cox's contention that the Western church has probably overemphasized personal morality (perhaps a vestige of "Greek philosophy" he says?) over structural, societal justice.  But, as I pondered his point that improving the powerlessness and living conditions of the oppressed is what the church needs to focus upon first and foremost,  it seems to me that biblical virtue on a personal level is actually a precondition for justice on a societal level.  It's typically the dishonesty and selfishness of whoever is in power that causes the masses to suffer.  It's the people who cheat on their taxes that keep money from flowing to those who most need it.

I do think, however, that the protestant Western church needs to get its focus off pleasing itself and "petting the sheep" with self-help messages and Starbucks-style cafes installed in mega-facilities.  Are poor people and widows being served by this?

Cox also slammed the efforts of well-intentioned "weekend work sessions" where rich suburban kids would go into poor slums for a couple days and help paint walls, etc.  He suggested instead that the black and white kids get together and knock on white people's doors in suburbia and try to effect political change (the book was written in the 60s).  Overall, it made me wonder how effective and helpful are the week-long "Mexicali" and other short trips where relatively rich Americans do manual labor in Mexican villages and play with the kids. I did this for three years in high school and was very glad I went.  The best part was having my eyes opened to many Mexicans' living conditions.  But maybe we should have instead taught them English or put on seminars on how to apply for micro-loans from the World Bank?...   Very interesting issues.

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